Let’s get it out of the way: Lost changed things for television. Every year since its 2004 premiere, networks have tried to emulate its magic, with varying degrees of success. This year’s entry from ABC is FlashForward. It carries the same network logo, a pair of familiar faces, even a billboard advertising a certain ill-fated airline. But while FlashForward’s spin on the Lost paradigm captures its sense of oddity, it lacks the patience and sense to let the audience engage on its own.
We open on a man who wakes to find a disaster. Instead of a doctor, we learn he’s a federal agent. Instead of an island, we find him in Los Angeles. Instead of a plane crash, everything has crashed—cars, helicopters, you name it. It’s happened all over the world. For two minutes, everyone on the planet blacks out, and glimpses their lives six months in the future.
The pilot’s opening tease, including the brief flashback to fill us in on the jolting intro, suffers from narrative ADD. In nine minutes, we’re introduced to ten separate characters with five interconnected storylines. And that’s all before the “event” even takes place.
In comparison, Lost dropped us into a world of chaos and let everything unfold through the eyes of one man—Jack Shepherd. In that first opening salvo, we glimpse the faces of every major player, but we see it all through Jack’s eyes. He’s our conduit. Through his heroic actions, he’s the first to earn our sympathies, and our loyalty.
The front runner of FlashForward is FBI agent Mark Benford (capably played by Joseph Fiennes). He never has a chance to earn our loyalty. The narrative instead picks up threads involving various folk in Mark’s life; including his wife (Lost’s Sonja Walger), her suicidal associate, Bryce (Zachary Knighton); Mark’s partner, Demetri (John Cho); and Mark’s AA sponsor, Aaron (Brian F. O’Byrne). All of whom might become interesting characters in future installments, but for now, they’re simply ciphers for examining the myriad implications of the “event.”
Certain production aspects undermine the effort in selling the premise. Take sound, for instance. At one moment, as Mark and Demetri try to help the wounded on a wrecked LA freeway, the sound of an explosion diverts their attention to a helicopter that’s just crashed into a building. The building and the helicopter sit maybe a mile away, easily a part of the LA skyline. We hear the sound as the incident occurs, and our heroes react.